After another couple of weeks using the iPhone, I remain captivated, especially with the brilliant user interface. I also continue to discover some shortcomings. One glaring example is the lack of copy and paste, something I took for granted with the Palm Treo 700P which I sold last week on eBay for $320). There have been many occasions when I wanted to copy something from an email or SMS text message and paste it into a "Note" which I could then sync with Outlook and subsequently paste into a new web page or email or whatever. Copy/paste is the duck tape of a computer but the iPhone does not have it. This is a non-trivial limitation.
The big issue — and possible solution to the lack of copy/paste — is applications. The Palm has thousands; the iPhone has just the basics — so far. If you watch the video interview on Podtech of some of the 300 who turned out for the iPhone developer’s conference you could get very optimistic. Developers are building applications that follow Web standards and which can utilize the unique user interface of the iPhone and work with the Safari browser. I took a look at one of the applications already available called AppMarks. I was quite impressed. It allows you to create icons on a web page — in other words it gives you a web page with an icon for each iPhone web application. The icons look just like the icons that are on the iPhone home page and you can add, delete or edit them..
If nothing else, the iPhone is calling more attention to the fact that most people will be using web applications from a handheld device. The leader at this so far appears to be Opera Software of Norway with it’s new Opera mini browser which works on nearly any mobile phone. A very positive story about surfing on your phone appeared in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. I recommend reading it. The point of the story was that people using a handheld device will expect to be able to have full access to the web, not just the content and applications that Verizon or AT&T or Sprint have "approved". The operators argue it is "for your own protection" and there is an argument there but somehow we have thrived with full access to the web with our PC without getting approval from our Internet Service Provider when we want to add something new. That is how it has to be for handhelds.
Apple has taken a good step in the right direction but by not opening up the phone to developers like Palm and Microsoft have done, the iPhone is totally dependent on web applications. In addition the iPhone has no local storage which means your data has to be on a server somewhere. It is very much like the "thin client" model that Oracle, IBM and others tried some years ago. It was not successful because the network was not as reliable, ubiquitous, and fast as assumed. Now with the iPhone we have AT&T — without a doubt the weakest part of the product. It will be a horse race to see if AT&T can improve it’s slow and spotty network and if WiFi can continue toward ubiquity in time to make the iPhone a superior choice to Palm, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, et al who have handhelds with local storage, multiple networks to choose from, and an application interface to allow building local applications.
I already miss the Treo where I had quite a few applications. For example, an application called Worldmate acted as my travel assistant — it converted currencies, times, and all units of measure, kept track of weather and flight itineraries, and provided many other useful tools. Another application called Healthfile allowed me to store all my medications, doctor visits, blood pressure, blood chemistry, tests, etc. Both of these appllications stored data on the storage card on the Treo and allowed me to synchronize the data with my ThinkPad. The applications are available on more than a dozen different phone brands. The iPhone does not have them. Could it have them as web apps with the data stored on a server somewhere? Yes, definitely, but only if WiFi or AT&T are available. In the long run I am optimistic. In the next year or two I am not so sure. I hope to be pleasantly surprised.